Every well-meaning parent shares a desire to offer their children life experiences that will prove inspiring, informative or otherwise enriching. Given the millions of options at our disposal, however, how on earth are we to prioritize our time and money?
Throughout the years, my husband and I have struggled to scrape extra cash from the bottom of the barrel for music lessons, gymnastics, acting, camps, team sports and tutoring. Never fully knowing whether our money was well spent and struggling to afford $1/minute lessons (no kidding), I often questioned whether these things were worth the hours upon hours in the car, stress to the already-burdened budget and sacrifice of time spent together as a family.
But my skepticism was always ladened with guilt and obligation. After all, isn’t it the job of any good parent to run themselves into the ground in the best interests of their children?
Looking back to the days when I still subscribed to this mentality, I distinctly remember a conversation with a friend in which we were trying to reconcile our ideals with the unfortunate shortage of hours in a day…
“Bare minimum, I just want each of my kids to play one instrument and one sport,” I said reluctantly, thinking my plan a reasonable compromise.
But as soon as I did the math, I was eating my words…
This would mean – on average – 4 hours per week per sport (figuring one game, one practice plus drive time) x 4 kids = 16 hours, and 2 hours per week per music lesson (figuring one lesson and drive time) x 4 kids = 8 hours. That’s 24 hours a week (or two entire days) of me and all the kids in the car at 65 mph, waiting on the edge of a ball field (or parking lot of a strip mall) and spending money needlessly just to pass the time.
Oh yea, and speaking of money…
Let’s just say that I have one soccer player (actually a relatively inexpensive sport on a city league), one gymnast, an actress and a dancer. A precocious bunch, they also play guitar, stand-up base, violin and piano. We’re talking – ballpark – $300/month for sports and a whopping $750/month for weekly music lessons and instrument rentals. That’s more than 1000 US DOLLARS a month in the hopes that they will practice, enjoy themselves and come away with either physical prowess or musical genius.
Are you stressed out yet? How about fitting these events into the schedule around work, school, homework, rush-hour and dinner? Never mind the associated recitals, awards ceremonies, out-of-town meets and costume fittings. And enforcing the daily discipline necessary to achieve proficiency in an instrument?
I know not everyone is so crazy as to have four children. There are even some people who plan the size of their families based on their ability to afford such perceived necessities (if you can believe it). But cut the figures in half and you’re still talking about a huge percentage of time and income spent on activities that keep the family running in separate directions, eating out, and glued to the highway in order to keep up.
In grappling with this dilemma (because I do consider sports and music to be quite valuable), I have consulted my elders. On several occasions I’ve asked those of grandparent-age what it was like when their kids were young. Their answers speak volumes to the insanity our generation has created for ourselves…
“What do you mean drive the kids all over town for music lessons? Hell, who’d cook dinner?” Or similarly, “Well sure, they played baseball like every other kid. They walked on over to the fields after school.”
What a contrast.
When did we adopt this notion that well-adjusted kids with any chance of success or happiness must be given every opportunity under the sun?
I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that we are cranking out a healthier generation by teaching them that their schedules must stay full in order to be fulfilled. I don’t believe that expensive, organized sports are any more beneficial than pick-up games of street ball or free play with neighborhood kids. I’m of the opinion that children’s lives are deeply enriched by good old-fashioned dinnertime routines and downtime to climb trees and happy parents not stressed and maxed by a million commitments.
This is not to say that piano concertos and soccer Saturdays aren’t awesome, too – but from now on, it’s quality over quantity for this soccer mom. Less is more, local is the law and we don’t do dinner while driving.
For more on this topic, check out this invaluable short video by Kim Payne.
About Beth Berry
Beth Berry is a writer, mother of four daughters and born idealist living the real life. When she's not orchestrating the household, she can be found in one of several precarious yoga poses, wandering indigenous Mayan food markets, or holed up in a sunny southern Mexican cafe with her laptop, a shade grown dark roast and a contemplative look on her face. Having lived against the grain as a baby-slinging, toddler-nursing, secondhand-shopping, wanna-be farmer for 17 years, she and her family decided to ditch the rat race for a taste of life abroad. Now, in addition to challenging conventional wisdom, she writes about her life-changing experiences working among women in extreme poverty and oppression. Keep up with her musings and adventures in imperfection at www.revolutionfromhome.com.